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Tlaib and Omar make history as first Muslim women sworn into US Congress

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar officially become members of US Congress on Thursday, voting for Nancy Pelosi as new House speaker
Tlaib wears red Palestinian thobe in her first official appearance in Congress (AFP)

WASHINGTON - Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have been sworn into the US House of Representatives, becoming the first Muslim women to ever serve in Congress.

In the first session of the now Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Thursday, the representatives elected Nancy Pelosi as speaker.

Pelosi, a former speaker, is seen by some critics as representing the Democratic Party's centrist, old guard, yet has been praised by others as being both tough and pragmatic.

Tlaib and Omar voted for Pelosi to become the new House speaker in their first official appearance in Congress.

After each of the two major parties put forward its favoured candidate for the speakership on Thursday, each House member was called by name to publicly nominate a speaker.

Pelosi received 219 votes, followed by Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy with 192 votes.

Standing in a red Palestinian thobe and flanked by her two children, Tlaib said: "For the future of our children: Nancy Pelosi," when her name was called.

Challenging Trump

The new configuration of Congress - Democrats control the House of Representatives and Republicans remain a majority in the Senate - is set to present a challenge for President Donald Trump and his administration's agenda.

House Democrats have vowed to investigate Trump's dealings with Saudi Arabia, for example.

In an interview with Middle East Eye after her electoral victory in November, Tlaib said she is prepared to take on the "biggest bully", referring to Trump.

The first Muslim woman in US Congress: Rashida Tlaib celebrates historic victory
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"This is about electing the jury that's going to impeach him, and I make a heck of a juror," she told MEE in early 2018, after launching her campaign for Congress.

The incoming class of Democrats, which includes many women of colour, is also expected to bring with it a surge of left-wing policies and unconventional ideas.

Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants from Detroit, promised earlier this year to ditch a customary visit to Israel for new members of Congress organised by pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, announcing instead that she intends to lead a delegation to the occupied West Bank.

She has also expressed support for solving the conflict by creating one state in Israel and the Palestinian territories with equal rights for all of its citizens, straying away from the traditional support for the two-state solution among US politicians.

For her part, Omar has expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to put pressure on Israel for its human rights violations against Palestinians.

A former Minnesota state representative who came to the US as a refugee, she is also the first Somali-American elected to Congress.

She tweeted ahead of her swearing in that "it's a new day in America".

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